"I just wanted to raise the bar a notch or too as far as extreme music goes. I came up with the name, found the bird, had it taught some things and off we went."
- Blake, of Hatebeak
TAKE THY BEAK FROM OUT MY HEART
The world's only death metal band to feature an avian vocalist, Hatebeak have a sound that has been variously described as Avian Grindcore, Feathergore, Parrot Thrash, and "a jackhammer being ground in a compactor" (The San Francisco Chronicle). The vocalist in question is Waldo, an 18-year-old African grey parrot whose cries are recorded by Mark and Blake, the other two members of the band, who keep their surnames secret "for the mystery".
The idea of a non-human vocalist is not entirely new, and if it was going to happen then it makes sense that it would happen in the death metal scene, where anything that increases the perceived shock or inhumanity is a bonus. Caninus, another metal band, has vocals provided by two pitbull terriers, who even perform live. Obviously, the idea for HateBeak probably began as a parody, or even just a joke between two bored friends who had noticed that besides the Andy Griffith theme tune, their friend's parrot had picked up the habit of screeching in a particularly ear-destroying way.
"Hatebeak is a studio project only, in the tradition of bands like Steely Dan except with unintelligible lyrics and no melody at three times the volume."
— Carla Thornton, ParrotChronicles.com
"We don't play live," says Blake. "It would be absolute torture for the bird to experience decibels at those levels." All their records — and by now there are three of them: Beak of Putrefaction, Bird Seeds of Vengeance and The Thing That Should Not Beak — are created by pre-recording Waldo as he does his thing, and then mixing him in with the instruments in the studio. Hatebeak have generated their fanbase through word-of-mouth, MySpace, and through the generosity of their sponsors, an organic birdseed company. Their label, Reptilian Records, is based in Baltimore, and is run by a guy called Chris who loves to make cheesy bird-related puns when talking about Hatebeak, such as "When the idea for Hatebeak hatched, I admit I was skeptical" or "But now that it has taken flight, I believe Hatebeak will soar to new heights."
"Face-crushing guitars, head-pounding drums, bass so low you’ll vacate your bowels, and vocals so scorching, so extreme they simply can’t be human! They’re not."
— Reptilian Records
Listening to Hatebeak on YouTube is a surprising experience — surprising because I was expecting at best something which would be funny for 5 seconds and annoying or awful after that. In fact, Hatebeak have a sound that is quite listenable-to (if you like death metal). The instrumentals are good, and the parrot vocals don't sound any more jarring and horrible than your typical human death metal singer's distorted, throat-rending howl — just a little higher up in the tenor register than usual. The bird really does have the most blood-curdling voice, and it's a little unnerving knowing that you're listening to a parrot. Don't ask me exactly why. The songs, apparently, are about "Avian Supremacy" and are called things like God of Empty Nest and Feral Parrot and Bird Bites, Dog Cries (According to Blake, Waldo likes to sneak up behind his owner's pet dog and nip his tail).